Oct 31, 2023

New Video---Japanese Vampires: The Bloodthirsty Trilogy


There have been endless variations of vampire movies since the beginning of cinema. One of my favorite interpretations is in a trio of Japanese classic films directed by Michio Yamamoto and co-written by Ei Qgawa. Known as Bloodthirsty or The Bloodthirsty Trio, they were filmed at Toho studios in the early 70s and offered an interesting East meets West take on the eternal bloodsucker. 

Films featured: 

The Vampire Doll or The Bloodthirsty Doll from 1970 
Lake of Dracula or Bloodthirsty Eyes made in 1971 
Evil of Dracula or The Bloodthirsty Rose from 1974

Oct 20, 2023

Book Review--The Accidental Star: The Life and Films of Warner Baxter

The Accidental Star: The Life and Films of Warner Baxter 
Dan Van Neste 
BearManor Media, 2023 

Before picking up Dan Van Neste’s new biography of the prolific actor Warner Baxter, I didn’t know much about it. My first exposure to him was as the sickly musical director in 42nd Street (1933); the first time he charmed me was opposite Myrna Loy in Penthouse (1933), there were a handful of other performances I could remember, but I realized I knew nothing about Baxter himself. Van Neste’s book introduced me to a complex, thoroughly engaged man, with a life both blessed and turbulent. 

I always liked Baxter, but I didn’t know the scope of what he achieved. Not only did his career span three decades, but he found popular success throughout his career, from the silents to ‘B’ serials. Despite significant personal difficulties, he easily managed the transition from silents to sound, won the second Oscar for best actor, and was for many years one of the most beloved and wealthy stars in Hollywood. He also found the time for a fulfilling personal life, including over three decades of happy marriage to the actress Winifred Bryson and an astonishing array of social groups, charitable pursuits, and hobbies. 

While this remarkably humble and self-preserving man would never reach the career heights of Clark Gable, Cary Grant, and his friend and inspiration Ronald Coleman, his filmography is nevertheless an impressive one. He appeared in the first film version of The Great Gatsby (1926), the only adaptation made in the same decade the book was written, participated in the rebirth of the movie musical with 42nd Street and worked with some of the best directors of the studio age including Frank Capra, John Ford, and William Wellman, if not necessarily on their best films. He was able to find employment that pleased him until the end, emerging from a partial retirement to once again find great success in the 10-film Crime Doctor series. 

Baxter’s accomplishments are all the more impressive considering how much he suffered emotionally. It is never clear what mental illness afflicted him, though there are hints of social anxiety, depression, and bi-polar disorder, all categorized under “nervous breakdown” at the time. Somehow the actor didn’t let his problems destroy his career, likely a testament to the support he had in his marriage and the financial resources that gave him the ability to take long breaks for relaxation. That latter point is especially powerful, demonstrating that even in an age where his condition remained a mystery in many ways, simply having the resources to step away from work was life-changing. 

Van Neste has spoken with several of Baxter’s former co-workers and their memories reveal a kind man who was always willing to help others and never put on the airs of a star. He liked being a famous movie actor, but he seemed too interested in his life to make much of it. I was surprised and fascinated to learn about the rich, interesting life the man most famous for his pep talk to Ruby Keeler’s Peggy Sawyer had. 

Note--The book has an unusual structure: The first half is Baxter's biography, while the second contains a especially detailed filmography. I found it useful to have access to a lot of production details which would have been too numerous to include the telling of his story, but were interesting to know.

Many thanks to Dan Van Neste for providing a copy of the book for review.

Oct 6, 2023

Book Review--Strictly Dynamite: The Sensational Life of Lupe Vélez, by Eve Golden

Strictly Dynamite: The Sensational Life of Lupe Vélez 
Eve Golden 
University Press of Kentucky, 2023 

As a biographer, Eve Golden has a knack for clearing the fog around her subjects. In previous books about Jayne Mansfield, Jean Harlow, and John Gilbert, she dug for the truth behind the scandals that overshadowed these stars while also revealing the real person beyond the marquee. She does that once again for Lupe Vélez, a multi-talented, vivacious star who desperately needed a reputation adjustment. 

The Mexico-born Vélez was one of those people who was born to be seen. Her ability to delight audiences extended from the stage to the screen, though she never had the great films to match her talent. I’ve long appreciated Golden’s thorough research and respect for her subjects. She is dedicated to finding the truth while retaining a sense of fairness and decency. The humanity of her subject always appears to be top-of-mind. Here it is easy to see how Vélez got the reputation that she did, but that this flirtatious, outrageous, and temperamental woman was a lot more professional and grounded than rumor would have it. 

Vélez was a spitfire, and it is understandable why the seemingly effortless comedy of her Mexican Spitfire series brought her her greatest fame, but she was far from being only a fiery Latin stereotype. She was a strong dramatic actress, which she demonstrated in the early talkie Resurrection (1931), but studios and audiences didn’t wish to see her this way. As a result, Vélez often had more offers for work than she could accept, but rarely had the opportunity to show the full extent of her talents. 

While Vélez lived a vibrant life full of adventure, friends, lovers, and ultimately lasting prosperity, there’s always the feeling of what she really wants being out of reach. She can’t be alone or sit still and while that can be chalked up to personality in some respects, there’s also the impression that some of the restlessness comes from the constant struggle to reach her full potential professionally and personally. She knows her worth and she can’t degrade herself by settling. 

The book tells this story with a clear eye, aware of Vélez' flaws, but also revealing her strong work ethic, a common touch with almost entire lack of star attitude, and great intelligence in financial matters. It has an easy flow, with a few asides to fill out the big picture as far as the people in Vélez’ life and the times she lived in, but good overall pacing and focus. I love how Golden uses light humor and wry comments to give the narrative the feeling of a good conversation. She finds a solid balance between respect of the subject and a sort of lightness of tone that makes the story as entertaining as it is informative. 

And yes, she explains in full detail why Vélez couldn't have drowned in her toilet. This book rescues her reputation from the dismal gossip around the circumstances of her death, though ultimately it offers a story much richer than the rumors that have overwhelmed her legacy.

Many thanks to University Press of Kentucky for providing a copy of the book for review.

Oct 4, 2023

On YouTube: 100 Years of Movie Vampires


While there are many commonly known characteristics of vampires, from blood and crucifixes to sunlight and garlic, there has always been a lot of variety in the way these blood drinkers are portrayed in movies across time, genre, style, and world culture. This collection shows the similarities and differences across a century of cinema. I thought it was the perfect way to celebrate the start of Spooky Season!